Monday, November 14, 2011

First Novels

First Novels-every writer has one.  For the reader, first novels can be a chancy business.  You can either fall into a whole new world in the first sentence, or you can waste hours trying to.   Lately I have found several first novels that have captivated me from the first page.  Some are new this year, but some are from a few years ago that I somehow missed.  I have found some new favorite authors that I thought I would share.

I’ll read romance, mystery, fantasy, and most other genres but the one genre I generally stay away from is science fiction.  So imagine my surprise that one of the best novels I’ve read recently has been a science fiction novel, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline .  The year is 2044; the Great Recession of 2008 never ended; natural resources have been depleted; and governments are failing.  Most people spend their time in the online virtual world, OASIS.   The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies and leaves his entire fortune and control of OASIS to the winner of a virtual quest.  Halliday was a 1980’s trivia buff, and the quest is full of 1980’s references, music, and video games.  Millions of people begin the quest for the Easter Egg hidden somewhere in the many worlds of OASIS.  Wade Watts stumbles upon the first clue, and his life changes.  The whole world is watching as he and other competitors try to solve the puzzle—some willing to commit murder to win.  Cline has crafted a world that seems all too real and plausible; however, it is the characters that make the story come alive and remain memorable. 

Another first novel from this year is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  The novel starts with the reader going to a very special circus.  The circus, open only at night, always arrives mysteriously with no advance warning.  The reader is taken through a black and white tented circus where the lines between real and magic are very thin indeed.  Behind the scenes of the circus, a competition and a great love affair are taking place between two rival magicians, Celia and Marco.  Only one can be declared the winner, and death will come for the loser.  The sounds, the smells, and the sites of the circus come alive through Morgenstein’s beautifully lyrical language and storytelling.

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff was published in 2009 and won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, but I missed it and didn’t read it until this year.  Detective Simon Ziele left New York City following the death of his fiancé in 1905.  Wanting to retreat to a slower, quieter life, he moves to a small town.  Only a few months into his new life, he realizes death and violence can happen anywhere when a young woman is brutally murdered in his new town.   As he begins investigating, Ziele is contacted by Alistair Sinclair, a criminologist at Columbia University, who claims that he knows who did it--a violent man named Michael Fromley.  Detective Ziele must find out if Sinclair is telling the truth or someone with other interests is framing Fromley.  I very much enjoyed this historical mystery; it was very well plotted with a wholly believable conclusion.  I’m looking forward to the other two books in the series.

Other recommended first novels:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield 
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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